I am not a big proponent of Affirmative Action in college admissions. On balance, I believe that the current schemes—emphasize on CURRENT—are more harmful than beneficial. Too many people who are unlikely to succeed in collage are allowed in and fail; too many people who are likely to succeed do not get in and only very few, relatively, are benefiting from the positive bias.

That is NOT to say that diversity has zero benefit. Not at all. I do believe that diversity is a plus. The question is how much it should weigh on the admission decision. An all-Caucasian college class is not good. But I believe that, even without affirmative action, that would not be the case. If we need to give minor weight to race, in this case African American, that is okay, but it has to be minor so as to push in just those who are very close to being eligible anyway for the purpose of creating diversity.

Diversity can be achieved by 5% or 8% or 10% of African American students and does not necessarily require close to proportionate representations IF their grades do not justify it.

Having said that, this is NOT the subject of this post.

The RNC, in conjunction with the TV networks, has decided to have only 10 candidates on the stage in the presidential debates. I agree with that decision more or less.

They also decided to choose those 10 on the basis of the average of public opinion polls; the top 10 candidates in these polls will appear on the main stage. I think that is a bad idea (CNN is proposing two debates one for the prime 10 and one for the others, which is probably as bad an idea. Who would want to be in the second group? Who would watch that debate? Will you ask them the same questions as the primary debate? Not a good solution).

First, let’s be clear, the plethora of contenders for the Republican nominee makes it absolutely necessary to make a tough choice here. You cannot have a debate for every Tom, Dick, and Harry that decided they are presidential material. Some of these contenders are clearly not serious people.

But how, then, do you make the decision of who will participate? Allowing them all on one stage will make the debate unwieldy.

Polls are very problematic:

  • They are never accurate. Even those who would swear by polls accept that they have margin of error. These are normally 3-4%. The difference between number 10 in the polls and number 11 is, and will be, SIGNIFICANTLY less than that margin. So, by definition, it is an erroneous measurement.
  • The polls give an undue advantage to people with name recognition, i.e. people who are lifelong politicians. For a party that is supposedly anti-big government, basically eliminating from the debates anyone who was never in government or politics and, as such, does not have national name recognition is, well, simply absurd.

So, I have done a good job of demolishing the proposed solution, but is there a better solution?

Only slightly so.

My suggestion would be to:

  • Choose 5–7 of the participants based on their position in the polls, i.e. the top 5-7 in the polls.
  • Choose another 5 (making the debate between 10-12) based on the discretion of the RNC/TV network. That decision should be based not on polling position but on diversity value.

Yes, in this case I believe diversity has a huge value. This is an entirely different situation than college admission. The debates are, if you want, like the college admission INTERVIEW. Of course you should interview a diverse group to decide who should be your presidential nominee.

Women, Blacks, and most importantly NON-politicians bring a HUGE value to the debate stage. Such participation will clearly enrich the debates and make them more interesting, lively and, yes, diverse!

At the moment it seems that Mr. Carson’s place in the debate is assured. But Ms. Fiorina’s is not. Can you imagine the debate without the participation of the sole female AND, more importantly, the sole businessperson amongst the contenders? (There is a slim chance that Mr. Trump, a businessperson, will declare and will get into the top 10. While that diminishes the point about the sole businessperson, it does not change the gender issue. I may add that, personally, I think that Trump’s participation will devalue the debate and make the entire Republican presidential nomination process a farce, but that is another matter. Personally, I do not believe that he will do it.)

I believe Ms. Fiorina (and Mr. Carson) should be provided a place on the main stage, at least in the first few debates. If she/they do not take off, if they fail to impress and thus get significantly more presence in the polls, they should be dropped in favor of other aspirants for later debates.
Most important, the debates that occur after the South Carolina primaries should be purely based on the candidate’s position in that primary and, in my view, it should be cut to 5 participants.

If, by the time the South Carolina primary is over you did not break into the top 5, you are not a credible contender.